Tag Archives: responsibility

A question for the GOP mainstream

What happens if you enact laws that say people receiving government assistance (SNAP benefits, subsidized health care, subsidized child care, housing assistance, etc.) have to be employed in order to receive those benefits AND simultaneously repeal the minimum wage effectively telling employers that they can pay people as little as possible?

These two ideas are, as far as I can tell, mainstream thoughts within the GOP party. The first is being enacted to varying degrees in a number of GOP states. The second is being discussed loudly by many GOP politicians, especially in response to calls for a higher minimum wage.

But what actually happens if we do both at the same time – tell people that they MUST have a job in order to get help, and tell employers that they don’t really have to pay their employees if they can get them to work for less?

Keep in mind that current minimum wage already provides a poverty level income to anyone earning it while trying to keep even one other single family member afloat.

Now imagine eliminating that wage requirement while telling people they must be employed – that means that the government is blackmailing people into working for even less. If they strike in protest of low wages that will not keep their family alive – does that mean they’re not working and thus the benefits that were helping them bridge the gap are cut off? (Not that they’d be able to strike effectively anyway since the GOP is also working hard to eliminate unions…) Given the reality that government programs have already seen significant cuts and many people receiving government assistance are already working multiple jobs in addition to receiving benefits, and are still struggling to make ends meet… what does this really mean? What does this really look like?

Yes, I can see where businesses will be able to make more money, and potentially even employ more people (I mean, hey, if you don’t have to pay them, why not hire them? That’s the line I’ve heard from the GOP side – eliminating the minimum wage will eliminate unemployment! Everyone can work, if no one has to pay them!) But… Is that really solving the problem we’re trying to solve? Do we just want everyone to have a job, any job, for any pay? Or do we want people to have a job that supports them and their families? Do we want them to have jobs that pay for the basic necessities of life: Food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, safe drinking water… Do we want employers to pay their employees enough that people with full time jobs don’t need to ask for or rely on government assistance to scrape by?

If we eliminate the minimum wage, rather than raising it, does anyone actually think that will lower people’s dependence on government assistance? Especially if having a job is a requirement for receiving assistance? Am I the only one who sees this as blackmailing people into accepting sub-par wages and becoming MORE reliant on government aid rather than less? Am I the only one who sees this as a serious step toward creating a government subsidized permanent serf class?

And where will the funds come from to pay for the increased need for government services? Obviously individuals receiving government assistance won’t have any money left over to pay taxes, and most of the large corporations have found enough loopholes, tax breaks and tax credits to avoid paying taxes – many actually receive tax refunds each year. So, companies like Walmart, McDonalds, Kraft foods, Amazon, etc. not only won’t have to pay their employees, they also won’t be paying tax dollars into the government relief pool. They are completely off the hook for the responsibility of ensuring their employee’s livelihoods.

Who does this policy help then? Shareholders, CEOs and other top executives who see extra company profits turned into bonus checks…

Who does this hurt? Pretty much everyone else. The poor who get poorer, the middle class who have to take up the extra tax burden because no one else is…

And why is THIS never called “income redistribution” or “class warfare” or “theft at the point of a gun” or and of the other terms used when the poor and middle class ask wealthy America to start paying back into the pot? Why is it okay for people to work 40+ hours a week and NOT be guaranteed a living wage? How is that not theft – of labor, of energy, of time? In the “richest nation in the world” or so we’re told, how is it that we’re okay with asking more and more people to work harder and longer for decreased pay and benefits rather than insisting that companies seeing record-breaking profits pay their employees livable wages?

If we’re not going to raise the minimum wage to match increases in cost of living, and we’re not going to enact price controls on essentials like medicine, housing, food, transportation, etc. while simultaneously blackmailing people into working for less than current minimum wage (and gutting the government relief programs that these workers would need to survive…) I don’t see how this results in anything other than the needless pain, suffering and degradation of American workers. It’s not enough to give people jobs, we have to insist on jobs that guarantee them a viable standard of living.

I think at the end of the day, what I’m  most confused about is why many members of the GOP elite seem to want to compete with “developing” nations like China and India (and really, we’re looking up to Vladimir Putin now!?!) in a race to the bottom in terms of worker rights, human rights, environmental action, etc. instead of competing with other “developed” nations like Sweden, Finland, Austria, New Zealand, Switzerland, etc. to raise the standard of living for everyone from the bottom to the top.

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Filed under Rant

Dear Good Men

My dear Good Men,

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but, there is more to being good than simply not being bad. As the priest in my favorite movie, Boondock Saints, reminds his congregation, “We must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of Good Men.” It is this indifference that I want to address. This indifference toward the lived experiences of women, their lived terror at the hands of men.

Worse, we need to discuss the fact that even as I wrote that last sentence, I felt compelled to add, “not all men, not you, of course, not you” to pre-emptively assuage your defensive anger at being lumped in with those other “bad” men you work so hard to not be like. It is this combination of casual indifference about the actual plight of women, combined with your knee-jerk defensiveness when we try to discuss it that makes it hard for me to accept you at your word, to accept you as Good Men, or allies, or safe.

I understand that you would like to be Good Men. I want to help you. I want to tell you what I, a woman, need from you in order to bestow that designation. In order to understand what is needed, you’ll have to take off your Good Man badge, let your guard down, listen, allow yourself to become uncomfortable. You are not under attack, the women you know are. All of the women you know. This is about what we experience, weekly, daily, sometimes hourly. You need to let yourself feel that discomfort, it is the only way you’ll be able to grasp the solutions.

The story starts like this: I’m 15 years old. I tell my sister about being sexually assaulted by a married man. She hugs me and says, “I’m so sorry. Welcome to the club.” And then it’s her turn to talk. Her turn to tell a story. The first time she was assaulted…

The first time. Not the only time. Not the last time.

The first time.

Because once it starts, there isn’t an end. At least not while we still have breath. And we hope, each time it happens, that we will retain our breath, regain our breath, reclaim our breath.

Breath to keep going.

Breath to whisper our story.

Breath to change the story.

Some of us run out of breath. Some of us can’t hold it anymore, our breath, and we let it go rather than have it stolen from us one more time. Some of us lose it all to our attacker, have it pulled, choked, torn from us, never to return. Our breathless, broken body becomes our story, told for us on the 9 o’clock news.

But those of us who hold our breath long enough, who keep it, tight in our chest, guarding it against the next attack, and the next, we go on.

Our story continues.

When I reported my first sexual assault at the age of 15, nothing happened to the man who assaulted me. No reports were filed, no charges levied, no warnings given. Instead, I was sent home from my year abroad because my presence became too uncomfortable for him. His comfort was more important than my safety.

Welcome to the club. The guys all like it here.

When a man followed me home, pushed his way into my apartment and assaulted me, a Good Man asked why I hadn’t stopped him. The women I told hugged me and shared their stories.

Welcome to the club. What did you do wrong to gain membership?

When I told my boss, a Good Man, that I could not help a customer because he had been stalking me, I was told to do my job or go home. It was not safe to be polite to my stalker. I quit and hid in a bathroom until my co-worker came and told me my stalker had left the building. But first she told me her story…

Welcome to the club. This is a terrible club.

When I told my first corporate boss, another Good Man, that I wouldn’t feel safe if he hired someone who listed “pick up artist,” “ladies man,” and “playa” on his resume, he told me to relax and get a sense of humor. After all, this candidate had hard skills. I was replaceable. When I asked women about filing a complaint they all shook their heads and told me their stories…

Welcome to the club. How do you think this club got built?

By the time my rapist showed up, I knew better than to report him. There was too much at stake. I had already seen how the system worked against women who spoke up. The “choices” we were given by Good Men looking out for their bottom line. I had too much to lose. The women I told held me tight and told me their stories…

Welcome to the club. None of us asked to join.

A Good Man asked me recently why he’d never heard these stories, if every woman I know has one, and they all have one, most have many, why hasn’t he heard them?

Welcome to the club. The first rule of survivor club is, don’t talk about what you’ve survived. It makes the Good Men uncomfortable.

When I went to college, I was forced to attend an orientation that told me how to keep myself safe. They never said, “from men” because there were men in the room and no one wanted to imply that we would need to stay safe from them. After all, they were our dorm mates, our class mates, they were Good Men.

I was given a set of rules to abide by to keep myself safe:

Never walk alone at night, don’t let a man walk you home at night…

Don’t wear tight clothes, don’t wear loose clothes, don’t wear flirty clothes, modify your fashion if you don’t want to be raped

Always carry your keys in your hand, always be ready to defend yourself…

Always keep an eye, and a hand, on your drink, better yet, don’t drink

Make eye contact, but not suggestive eye contact

Be alert at all times – no listening to headphones, no talking on your cell phone, the attack could come at any time…

Vary your routine, you never know who’s watching…

Mark out “safe-houses” along your routes in case you need to run to one, make sure you run to a house with women in it

The men at this orientation were not taught similar precautions. They were not taught to protect themselves. Nor were they asked to consider their role in the precautions women were being told to take. They were not asked to look at themselves as anything other than Good Men, because clearly, only Very Bad Men hurt women. Monsters.

But none of the rules that women are supposed to follow in order to keep ourselves safe from Bad Men work. None of them kept me safe. None of them kept my friends safe. None of them will keep my daughters safe, or your daughters safe…

Because Bad Men are not the problem.

No, the Monster we must battle is not Bad Men, but the indifference, the blindness, of Good Men.

The indifference that makes it possible for Good Men to ignore the catcalls, the jokes, the threats, the violence of other Good Men.

The blindness that makes it possible for Good Men to ask me what I’ve done wrong to deserve the violence I experienced, what rule I broke. As if violence is like mud puddles – an inevitable inconvenience that women simply have to look out for and step around – and if we forget or get distracted and step into a puddle, well, that’s our own fault, isn’t it?

Welcome to the club. Stop playing the victim card.

You see, there is no message in The Rules about Good Men standing up to Bad Men. There is no message that sometimes the Bad Man in the room is your friend, your peer, your professor, your boss, your brother, you.

There is no message that being neutral in the presence of violence makes you complicit in that violence and revokes your Good Man status.

The Good Men in that room were not asked to see, and so they did not.

Good Men, I am asking you to see.

It is not fair that men feel entitled to wear their Good Man badge every time they don’t actively, physically hurt a woman, while women feel grateful every time they simply survive another day in a world populated with men.

Good Men, do you feel that difference? Do you begin to see why we are tired of rewarding you for simply not killing us?

It is not enough.

So, Good Men, I will give you the message you’ve been missing. The message no one wants to give you lest it upset your fragile self-image as a white knight who is good simply by not being bad.

That is not enough.

It is not enough to not be a rapist, an attacker, a harasser.

That’s standard. That’s the default.

Good is something altogether more.

If you want to be Good Men, you must be good enough to say, “We should not hire someone who lists “pick up artist” on their resume, that creates an unsafe culture at our company.”

You must be good enough to say, “If an employee is threatened by a customer, we should ask that customer to leave rather than lose a good employee.”

You must be good enough to say, “It’s not okay to joke about other people in ways that dehumanize them. It’s not okay to talk about women as if they are meat.”

You must be good enough to say, “Leave. What you’re doing and saying is inappropriate and is making others feel unsafe.”

You must be good enough to say, “Back off, she said no.”

You must be good enough to hear “no” in the silent absence of a “yes” and act accordingly.

You must be good enough to hear, “I have been hurt before. I need you to approach with caution and kindness.” and not take it as an attack on your Goodness.

In order to be Good Men, you must open your eyes and ears and hearts. You must learn what violence looks like and sounds like so that you can call it out and tell the perpetrators to stop before it erupts.

You must be good enough to listen when women speak of the violence done to them, to believe them, and to not get angry at them for making you uncomfortable. If you respond with defensive anger, you are telling them that your comfort is more important than their safety, than their very life.

As Margaret Atwood so famously said, “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”

If you want to earn your Good Man badge, you must be good enough to put women’s safety above your comfort. You must go beyond “not bad” and behave in ways that actively promote equality and justice.

“Not bad” is the default.

“Not bad” is neutral.

And neutral is the playground of the oppressor.

Welcome to the club.

 

(Note – this piece was written for one of my classes. A few of my fellow students wrote that they hoped I would publish it, so here it is. My regular readers will read/hear echoes of previous pieces, but I do believe this one ties many threads together into an approachable package. As always, feel free to share. Thank you.)

 

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

What’s a legal immigrant anyway?

Thinking about immigration and citizenship and access to human rights and thinking about all the people who tell me, “But my ancestors came to the USA legally” as if that makes them better than current immigrants.
I always want to ask them when exactly their ancestors came over legally – was it right in the beginning, when Europeans colonized this land, because I’m pretty sure the First Nations people would argue about the legality of that occupation and colonization of their land by foreigners.
Or was it during the previous waves of immigration when our borders were open to overseas immigrants who were willing to labor to build this nation?
How many hoops did their ancestors have to jump through to be considered “legal?” Was it more than stopping at Ellis Island and having to sign their name and be checked for boat lice?
What steps did they have to take to become citizens?
Do the people saying any of this have any idea how much more complicated the process has become since 9/11?
It’s hard to tell people to come legally when we’ve ravaged their countries, sparked wars and famines and then blocked legal entry to all but the most educated, wealthy and privileged few…

I, sort of, get the fear that lives in people about someone else “taking your job” – but here’s the thing, it’s not your job. It’s a job, you have it right now and that’s great – but we live in a capitalist society which means that your employer gets to replace you at will any time they can find someone who can do your job better, faster, cheaper or happier than you, whether that person comes from another country or not.

You want your job – be good at it, show up, don’t take it for granted. If you don’t want to be trapped working for less pay than you think you’re worth – fight to enact and enforce a livable minimum wage so that no matter who has what job, anyone working can be assured that they can survive and thrive on their wages.

I, sort of, get the fear that we might be letting in terrorists, but then I think about the near daily acts of domestic terror that are being allowed to occur in our nation and I just have a hard time accepting that I should be more afraid of desperate foreigners looking for a better life than of desperate and afraid citizens who are willing to hurt and kill other citizens in response to their fears.

I, sort of, get that there might be something to fear in letting new people into our borders, but I see that there is for sure something to fear in creating global problems and then turning our back on the results and refusing to accept any responsibility for the people whose lives and livelihoods we’ve imperiled through our imperialism. (See how that works?)

I’m not saying that we should just throw open the borders and let in everyone and grant everyone citizenship overnight – but I am asking if we can please stop having pissing contests over whose ancestors immigrated legally, correctly and who is therefore better or has more right to be here. I’m asking if we can start taking responsibility for the consequences of our national actions, for the refugees from the wars we’ve sparked, from the famines we’ve helped create, from the policies we’ve enacted around the world.

Just a thought.

 

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Filed under Rant

Schrodinger’s Rapist Revisted

I had an experience today that got me thinking about the way we treat each other, the things we expect from one another, and the things we do to take care of ourselves in an uncertain world.

My train of thought led me back to this old post trying to explain the concept of Schrödinger’s Rapist. That attempt largely failed with the very people it was meant to educate/enlighten/help…

Maybe today’s experience will prove a better example.

See, the premise of Schrödinger’s Rapist is that anyone could be a rapist – and no one knows if you are, or aren’t, until it’s too late. Thus, certain people who fall into categories that are historically, socially, statistically and physically more vulnerable to rape are right to take extra precautions around people who fall into categories that are statistically, historically, physically more likely to be rapists until they have sufficient evidence to believe they are safe.

This concept upsets a lot of people, primarily men, because they believe it amounts to saying that all men are rapists. It doesn’t. It says all people are potentially rapists, we don’t know until we “open the box.” (To stick with the Schrodinger theme) It further says, since men are more likely to be rapists than people of other genders, it is not unreasonable to practice caution around men until you feel you can move them into the “not a rapist” box.

Still, men are upset about this.

So, let me try again with a more tangible, real life example.

This afternoon I was leaving the grocery store. While I was shopping my car had gotten boxed in by three really big trucks, severely limiting my visibility as I tried to back out of my spot and head home.

I backed out very cautiously, moving slowly, checking my mirrors and turning my head to check all my blind spots frequently as I inched out. Once I broke free of my parking space, I saw an elderly woman walking up the aisle toward the store. The nose of my car was pointing in her general direction and as I straightened out my car it was clear I would be driving right past her. She was just on the other side of one of the large trucks that had been blocking me in. I cranked my wheel a little further to make sure I could swing around both her and the truck and leave enough room for her to feel safe and comfortable.

Instead of continuing to walk forward, she froze. Then she slowly inched her way closer to the bumper of the large truck, hugging it, and staying on the other side of it from me.

Now, I had a couple of options – I could take this personally. Didn’t she know I was a good, safe, nice driver? Hadn’t she seen me cautiously and slowly backing out? Why on earth would she be scared now and move to protect herself from me and my vehicle? It’s not like I was going to run her down in the King Sooper’s Parking Lot. I DO NOT COMMIT VEHICULAR HOMICIDE, DIDN’T SHE KNOW THAT?

OR

I could appreciate her caution for what it was – an act of reasonable self-protection based on decades of social training that told her that cars CAN BE dangerous. Cars have the potential to harm or even kill unwary people. Sure #NotAllCars are driven by homicidal, or even just hurried and harried, or absent-minded and distracted drivers… But, a few of them are – and YOU NEVER KNOW UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE.

In fact…

While most drivers in most parking lots drive slowly and cautiously, respecting the fact that parking lots are filled with pedestrians of all stripes as well as other cars trying to maneuver their way into and out of spaces, we’ve all seen the person who mistakes the parking lot for a race track, who cuts off pedestrians and other drivers to snag that prime spot, or who backs out and then tears through the parking lot as if Gotham has sent up the bat signal and they are Batman’s ride to a dubious and destructive heroism.

In fact… Many of us have been that driver at one time or another. In a hurry, distracted, running late and desperately trying to get through one more f’ing chore on our way to the place we’re supposed to be.

Or, perhaps, you’re like me, and you’re hungry and you’re pretty sure that getting in and out of that store AS FAST AS POSSIBLE is the only thing keeping you out of prison for mass murder, so scaring a few people in the parking lot is a small price to pay, you were paying attention, you were focused – THEY”RE STILL ALIVE AREN”T THEY!?! No matter that if a small child had wriggled free of their adult (as mine once did) and runs out from between two cars (as mine did) and dashes in front of your car (as mine did) and then panics and STOPS instead of running out of your path (as mine did) you wouldn’t be able to react in time and you’d be the bad driver we’ve been taught to fear after all… (luckily the driver my kid ran in front of was one of the much more common cautious in parking lots sort. Which did not stop me from soundly scolding said child and making sure she understood that SHE ALMOST DIED!)

No matter, you’re a good driver. You’re safe, you’re nice, considerate.  You don’t commit vehicular manslaughter.

You’re not a monster.

Most of us aren’t.

And yet… We teach our children to be cautious around cars – in parking lots, on streets, even on sidewalks – looking both ways, paying attention to reverse lights, looking around when they are riding their bikes, listening for cars as well as watching for them. We teach our children to hesitate first, to be hyper aware, to assume that drivers do not see them, and will not stop for them – even when the driver SHOULD stop for them. (Because sometimes drivers fail to stop. Sometimes drivers fail to obey the traffic rules. Even good drivers sometimes fail.)

So, when people exercise caution around cars and take steps to protect themselves against being harmed or killed by wayward drivers and their vehicles – we don’t take it personally. We don’t throw up our hands in disgust and wail, “Why don’t pedestrians TRUST ME? Why are they always so cautious? It’s rude. It’s profiling. Don’t they know that I’m a nice driver? I don’t commit vehicular manslaughter. #NotAllDrivers!”

Instead we respect their caution. We respect that they have been trained since birth to understand that pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists (and smart car drivers) are all at a distinct disadvantage should they fail to be cautious at the wrong moment or let their guard down around the wrong driver. And we respect that they can’t actually know if a driver is dangerous UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE, so it is okay for them to exercise caution around ALL DRIVERS.

We understand that there is a power differential there that favors the person in the car, and so we allow, we encourage, people to exercise and express their caution. We applaud them for it.

In the same vein, there is an inherent power differential between men and women and people of other genders in our society. This is something that has been trained into non-male people. We have been taught, since birth, that men are stronger, faster, more aggressive, more powerful – physically, financially, politically… We have been taught to respect, and fear, the power differential – the same way we’ve been taught to respect the power differential between a pedestrian and a car. We’ve been taught to exercise caution, because we are at a disadvantage.

So, while #NotAllMen are rapists, men hold more power and are statistically much more likely to be rapists than people of other genders. Therefore people of other genders should not be shamed, browbeaten or yelled at for exercising caution around men in the interest of protecting themselves. Especially not while we live in a society that continues to blame the victims of sexual violence – they asked for it, they were in the wrong neighborhood/bar/club, did you see what they were wearing, they were drinking, they smiled, etc.

As long as victims must accept social responsibility for the violence inflicted on them, it stands to reason that we should allow them every and any self-protection remedy they see fit to employ, including exercising caution around all men.

We cannot simultaneously tell people in parking lots that they are responsible for their own safety and then yell at them when they press themselves into corners to avoid oncoming vehicles.

We cannot simultaneously tell people that they must protect themselves from rape, and then yell at them when they aren’t relaxed, fun, nice, flirty, whatever with all men… Or even with all nice men – because they don’t know you’re nice until you show them – and getting upset at them for protecting themselves… Yeah, maybe you’re not quite the nice guy you thought you were.

 

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Who Am I – Or, The Words That Woke Me Up.

Yesterday Don Gonyea delivered a piece on NPR about Bob Dylan. He talked about these previously unreleased songs and bites from the cutting room floor of the recording studio. He’d given them a listen and was struck by one in particular.

“Like a Rolling Stone” was, it turns out, originally recorded as a waltz. It didn’t work. Clearly.

The next day, back in the studio, they gave it another go. This time Al Kooper, a guitarist, slid over to the Hammond Organ and started noodling around on it.

The first full take of the song with the organ it became The Take, the hit that we’ve all heard and love.

But… Dylan didn’t realize it then. They kept trying, take after take – never quite getting it perfect.

Finally, at the end of another long day of recording, they realized they had it all along.

That first full cut with Al Kooper on organ, in the words of Don Gonyea, “Wasn’t perfect, but it was right.”

Those words sat with me all day. They filled me up. I tweeted them, sharing them with my artist and writer friends as a loving reminder to know when to put the editing pen, the eraser, the perfectionist away.

Perfection is not the goal.

I finished reading Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking in the wee hours last night.

There was so much awesome in that book, I cannot recommend it enough.

I ran out of sticky tabs.

Twice.

The art of asking

Ask… Accept… Receive… Give Back. Keep the gift moving.

It’s funny because I bought the book right when it came out – it still has the signing ticket for the Amanda Palmer night at Tattered Cover that I missed.

I bought it because I thought I needed the book then, but I was busy and in the middle of a million things and so the book sat on my shelf unread until this week when I realized – I really did need to read it. I needed to learn.

How to ask.

How to accept.

How to receive.

I’m glad I did, because aside from all the stated reasons to read it, it also reminded me to be brave, to make art, to do the work and “make the things.”

This morning I was woken at 5am by words. Words that would not quit. Words that swirled and poked and demanded to be written down.

I snuck, naked and shivering, to my desk and turned on a flashlight, afraid that too much light would scare the words away.

I jotted. I shivered. I noodled.

Eventually I got a sweater.

I got the words down.

They aren’t perfect, but I think I got them right.

Who am I?
Or, The Words That Woke Me.

by Bree Ervin
(With thanks to Don Gonyea and Amanda F’ing Palmer.)

I’ve been told that I can’t sing.
This rhythm thing is not for me.
Can’t hit the note
Can’t hold the tone
The harmony strings me up and strands me.
I whisper softly, under breath,
afraid to make myself be heard,
afraid that I will be too clear.

For a decade,
even more,
I’ve been tangled
in trepidation.
Because, who am I
who am I
to sing
to shout
to raise up my voice?

My teacher said I couldn’t paint.
This artistry is not for me.
Can’t keep my lines straight
Can’t color in place
I scratch and scribble out my doodles,
afraid to let myself be seen,
afraid that I am too explicit.

For a lifetime,
more or less,
I’ve been caught up
in this mess.
Because, who am I
who am I
to illustrate
to delineate
to let myself become unveiled?

I have heard that I can’t act.
This stage craft thing is not for me.
Can’t emote from yonder stage
Can’t fake laughter or squeeze out tears
I shy away from hot spotlights,
afraid to be caught in a scene,
afraid that I will be revealed.

For a decade,
give or take,
I’ve been boxed in
lost in
doubt.
Because who am I
who am I
to speak
to play
to perform my stories openly?

I am not so good at carving.
The sculpting trade is not for me.
Can’t whittle wood
Can’t chip at stone
I peel back my secrets in isolation,
afraid to see myself reflected,
afraid that I am too transparent.

For too long now,
just about,
I’ve been cornered
in despair.
Because who am I
who am I
to shape
to polish
to show my inner world stripped bare?

I have never been a dancer.
This moving art is not for me.
Can’t keep the beat
Can’t bend and sway
I twirl my feelings deep inside,
afraid to let myself go free,
afraid that I am just too disclosed.

For years now,
on and on,
I’ve been tied up
in this panic.
Because who am I
who am I
to move,
to lead,
to strut my powers unescorted?

I’ve tried my hand at poetry
stringing words
and
melody
jumbling the storyline
burying
the
plot
underneath devices.
Using
tricks
and traps
to catch The Muse
and make her
make me
do the work.

For a year now,
more or less,
I’ve been stuck here,
in my seat.
Because who am I
who am I
to tell
to share
to claim this truth?

But I’ve been told I have a way with words.
This writing thing might be for me.
A natural bard
A wordsmith sure
And yet the stories grab me in the dark,
afraid to be too understood,
afraid that I can’t make real art.

So I’ve been silent,
in this chair,
sitting here,
year after year,
wondering just how I could,
reach out to you,
and be heard.
Because who am I
who am I
to touch you
to tell you,
who am I
who am I
to ask you
to need you,
who am I
who am I
to turn on the light?

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Filed under poetry

Another day, another shooting – can we talk about it YET?

I’ve been avoiding clicking on articles about shootings lately because the last one in Oregon hit me so hard.

I don’t even know why.

Maybe it was because my family had just been out there, and it was close to the town we lived in and had our children in – or maybe it was because it happened while I was starting to take active steps toward becoming a teacher and it happened on a college campus – making me face the fact that not only is no where safe from gun violence in this country, we’ve all accepted that, but that keeping students safe from gun violence is now part of every teacher’s job.

gun safety in america

What to do when you find a gun at your school.

And yet… As I look through my course catalog and plan my next couple of school years… There is no class on student safety, or gun safety, or violence in and around schools. We just have to follow district policy and hope that our school isn’t the next school. And there will be a next school because we still aren’t really allowed to talk about it, or take steps to make this madness stop.

When I start thinking about it, I fall into a wee puddle of despair. The intractable nature of this issue depresses me. The fact that we can’t even seem to start a conversation about it – not when kids are shot and killed in their classrooms, not when kids get a hold of guns and accidentally (or not accidentally – but, I believe, without fully realizing the permanence of the consequences) shoot a parent, sibling, friend or neighbor, not when open carry becomes open season

The closest we’ve been able to come to a conversation about this is being led by #BlackLivesMatter about our nation’s latent (and sometimes overt) racism and the militarization of our police forces.

hands up don't shoot

But in order for that conversation to be truly productive, we need it to join a larger conversation about gun violence, gun ownership, the 2nd amendment, FREEDOM and responsibility.

It is that last piece that I want to seize on – responsibility, because in all the shouting and finger-pointing and “from my cold dead hands” rhetoric… one of the things I keep hearing is that we can’t trample on the rights of “responsible gun owners” and that 30,000+ senseless deaths per year and the associated daily mayhem is simply the price we have to pay for those people’s rights, and I disagree.

I think that if you are a responsible gun owner, you should want to ensure that other people who own and use guns are also responsible. I feel like you should have a vested interest in making sure that irresponsible gun owners, along with violent people who wish to cause harm, destruction and mayhem are prevented from owning, acquiring and using guns. Or at least greatly hindered in their attempts.

I don’t want to take all the guns. (Well… That’s not strictly true. In my perfect world – sure, fuck guns. In my perfect world we wouldn’t need them, no one would need them – not the military, not the cops, not the criminals. Give all the hunters the new high powered, awesome compound bows. But, we don’t live in that world. That world is long gone. So… Working within the realms of reality – I’m not coming for your guns. No one is.)

That said… I do think we can talk about regulation.

I think we can talk about responsibility.

I think we can talk about safety and making it harder for a toddler to accidentally shoot their mom dead at the store.

I think we can talk about making it harder for people with known violent tendencies and violent intent to purchase/acquire guns. (One of the things that has been making me laugh that cold, dry, dusty laugh of despair lately is how often when there is another mass shooting, the Guns Everywhere crowd – which is distinct from the “responsible gun rights” crowd – will crow, “But he bought his guns legally!” as if this is an argument AGAINST having a conversation about gun regulation. I’m always like, “Exactly! And he shouldn’t have been able to! Thank you for pointing out that our current laws and regulations are inadequate!”)

I think we can talk about what a responsible response to a 911 call about a person brandishing a weapon should be. To my mind it is not automatically shoot to kill (See Tamir Rice and John Crawford III – both black males with toy guns in an open carry state), nor is it “Can’t help you. But call back if he opens fire.” (Response to calls about numerous white males with ACTUAL GUNS in numerous open carry states.)

I feel like we can talk about a reasonable response, perhaps one that focuses on “keeping the peace,” that starts by assessing a situation with the primary goal of de-escalation, that focuses on everyone’s rights – a responsible gun owner’s legal right to own a gun as well as everyone else’s legal right to life.

I think we can talk about requiring gun owners to be licensed, and for those licenses to require that gun owners take a gun safety class and pass a test to show their knowledge and proficiency. In my perfect world, those licenses would need to be renewed periodically – just like a driver’s license. And in my perfect world, an officer responding to a call about a person brandishing a weapon would have the legal obligation to request that license and verify it, just like an officer responding to a call of reckless driving is required to run the driver’s license and check their insurance and registration.

Further, just as a motorcycle license dos not qualify you to drive a car, and a car license does not qualify you to drive a large truck – a rifle license should be different from a handgun license should be different from an assault rifle license. Being competent with one type of gun does not make you competent with all guns. I believe there are levels that could be distinguished and delineated.

if guns were regulated

Just a thought.

I think we can talk about liability.

If gun owners were liable for damage caused by their unsecured guns, like the woman who left her assault rifle leaning against her house to take a call and returned to find that her gun had “wandered off” without her… Or the many, many, many people who have left loaded guns unsecured in spaces where children could access them… Perhaps we would see an increase in actual responsible gun ownership. The kind that keeps guns locked up and out of reach of underage, or untrained, unqualified, dare I hope, unlicensed people – not to mention people who the law has determined should not have access to firearms.

And what about gun manufacturers? Where is their liability? Not for every death caused by their guns, but for making guns with safety features so loose that a toddler is able to disable them and shoot someone on accident. For not using and incorporating the latest safety technology to ensure less accidental deaths occur as a result of their product’s use.

Cars are not designed specifically to kill. But sometimes they do. Not all cars kill people, not all drivers kill people – but car manufacturers are still required to include certain safety features in all cars – just in case.

Why aren’t gun manufacturers required to do the same?

I think we can talk about reasonable regulation. A friend of mine once asked what that meant. He claims it is just a liberal buzz phrase trotted out to make ourselves feel better. I have to say, it doesn’t make me feel better at all, because as much as I think these things make sense without infringing on FREEDOM!, and survey after survey has shown that a majority of Americans, including gun owners, also think these things are reasonable and make sense without infringing on FREEDOM! – nothing is being done to actually enact these things. So no, I don’t feel better talking about this, I feel depressed and hopeless and powerless.

I feel like Jon Stewart toward the end of his run.

So what are these “reasonable, common sense” regulations and reforms that the majority of people agree we should enact?

Universal background checks – enacting laws that make it so everyone who purchases a gun must pass a background check – and making sure that the data included in those background checks is kept up to date.

Laws greatly limiting the accessibility of semi-automatic, high-capacity assault rifles.

Laws greatly limiting the accessibility of high-capacity magazines for all styles of guns.

Laws allowing the CDC to research gun violence as a public health issue.

Laws requiring gun registration and/or licensing. (As stated above, I believe this should also require gun safety classes and both a written and a practical test to prove competency.)

I think we can, and should, have a conversation about what kind of nation we would like to live in in regards to guns and violence. I think we should be able to have a conversation about the costs of a mostly unfettered individual right to bear arms vs the costs of a more regulated individual right to bear arms. After all, we already limit people’s right to bear arms. Private citizens don’t get to own tanks, make bombs, etc. which leads me to…

I think we need to simultaneously have a conversation about the use of weapons by law enforcement. Because this is all connected. We declared a war on drugs and began to militarize our police forces to fight this war, which led to people arming themselves against the police, which led to… Well, it’s a giant snake eating its own tail isn’t it?

More guns lead to more guns lead to more guns.

But wait! Statistics show that less people own guns now than in past decades – so why all the violence? Why regulate? Clearly less gun owners doesn’t equal less gun violence. (And yet… homicide, including gun homicide is declining, so maybe there is some correlation…? And no, it isn’t declining so fast that we can skip the conversation. 30,000+ gun deaths per year is not something we should be ignoring.)

So, let’s look at who owns guns AND who is using them inappropriately and have a conversation about what that data could mean for policy.

Oh wait, we kind of can’t.

The CDC isn’t allowed to conduct that kind of research, and the government isn’t allowed to keep track of guns in our country – no registry, no licensing, nothing because they might maybe someday use that information to take all the guns because Hitler (or something. I’ve never really understood this argument and I admit, at this point I’m done trying to pretend to be nice to conspiracy theorists. No one wants to take your guns unless you are a violent a-hole who shouldn’t have them in the first place – so stop waving your arms in my face and acting like a violent a-hole who should be disarmed!!)

What we do know is that less people own guns. BUT the people who do own guns tend to own more of them. So we have less gun owners, but more owned guns.

We also know a thing or two about the people using guns for violence against others.

Mass shooters, with exactly one exception, are male. They tend to be white. They tend to feel slighted by society, many post their grievances – as well as their violent intentions – before they act. Those are often ignored until after the bullets have flown and the blood has pooled.

Based on this, if we want to stop mass shootings, perhaps we should pay attention to angry men who say they the world has slighted them and want to hurt others as a result – and not let them purchase guns or ammo. Perhaps we should be allowed to take their pre-existing owned guns from them. Perhaps we should be allowed to put them on a “No guns, no bullets” list, like the no fly lists we’ve been allowed to create even though most passengers don’t crash planes into buildings full of people…

Since mental health is clearly a factor in these mass shootings, perhaps we should also be able to get them some mental health services! Wouldn’t that be nice!

But mass shootings, while dramatic and headline grabbing, are a small percentage of all the shootings in America. What about all the rest of them – the many, many, many handgun deaths that don’t involve high-capacity guns? The many, many shootings that the new laws outlined above wouldn’t touch? What do we do about all the day to day casual gun violence that doesn’t make the news?

If we knew who owned guns, or at least who was licensed to own a gun and what types they were licensed to own, we would also know who shouldn’t/wasn’t allowed/licensed to own guns. That might make it easier for police to confiscate illegal guns. Once confiscated, illegally owned guns should be melted down into some sort of non-weapon. This has the effect of eventually reducing the total number of guns in circulation.

Likewise any gun used in the commission of a crime should be destroyed once the case is settled (including appeals) and it is no longer needed as evidence.

Voluntary gun buyback programs should be available in more municipalities and those guns too should be permanently removed from circulation.

I keep hearing that the gun problem in America is intractable because we already have too many guns and there’s no way to get them off the street short of mass confiscation. But then I hear about gun buyback programs being shut down, or being forced to sell the guns back into the community they were just removed from and I realize that the real problem is that we keep shooting ourselves in the foot. Once guns are removed from circulation, let’s keep them out.

Now, I can already hear the panicked chorus of, “But what’s to keep The Government from taking everyone’s guns and, and, HITLER!”

Breathe.

We the people, and our representatives are smart enough to solve this.

First, we are already largely protected from this by the 4th Amendment, you know, the one that protects against illegal search and seizure. Now, I know this right has been eroded significantly by the war on drugs and asset forfeiture laws, not to mention the war on terror and Homeland security so – let’s use our power and strengthen it back up. (And maybe stop declaring war on everything?)

We can write the laws in such a way that if police confiscate weapons, the person they were taken from has the right, and the time, to challenge that and to prove that they were legally allowed to own and possess those weapons. If the weapons were wrongfully confiscated, the person who was wronged gets them back and is reimbursed for any legal/court fees. (See the marijuana industry as an example of this – police who raid a Colorado marijuana business are required to keep alive any plants they find until the case is closed or reimburse the owner for their loss when they are found to be operating within the law.) It would be great if we re-wrote asset forfeiture laws at the same time to reflect this as well, but hey, one dream at a time.

Perhaps you also noticed that I said weapons used in the commission of a crime should be destroyed only after all appeals have been made and the case is closed – so that if that person is found innocent they can have their gun back.

But yes, we should absolutely be taking steps to get more guns off the streets.

Yes, we should absolutely be limiting the number of people who can purchase and own guns.

Yes, we should absolutely be limiting what types of guns and magazines and ammunition citizens (and police and the military) can possess, own, carry and use.

Yes, we should absolutely require background checks, gun safety classes, gun licensing.

Yes, we should be talking about what responsible gun ownership actually means – and if we have to legislate what that looks like (guns kept in locked spaces, out of reach of minors, not in homes with people who are banned from owning guns, etc.) because common sense is not actually common, then so be it.

And, if we’re really not allowed to regulate guns or talk about guns, maybe we can take some advice from Chris Rock and try to control the bullets.

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Filed under Naive idealism, Rant

Symptoms of Success, Welcome to the Club

Trigger Warning – Gendered violence, sexual assault, rape, threats, harassment.

 

I’ve only ever gotten one death threat because of this blog.

For the most part, even on those few posts that have gone viral and have traveled around the world and picked up a few of you on the way, people have generally been civil here. Or at least non-threatening. I rarely have to take out The Mallet.

And that is a HUGE relief.

This threat happened a long time ago, I barely even remember what it was about – just that I annoyed someone and they felt that threatening me with death was an acceptable response.

I remember the first fellow blogger I told said something like, “Welcome to the club. You must be getting an audience.” Then she told me her stories.

That is the most common response when I talk to other women who are active online. Nearly every one of them has a story of violent threats, many of them have stories of people actually attempting to carry out those threats.

Almost every woman I know who is successful online must accept not just daily, but hourly, minutely, near constant threats of violence including rape threats, death threats and threats against their families depending on her level of success.

“Welcome to the club.”

This creates a reality where almost every woman I know who is present and successful online must pay a very specific price for that – the price of peace of mind. It is a reality that silences many voices, some of them before they even dare to speak.

Many successful women I know have gone so far as to hire someone to read their mentions and the comments on their posts and delete, report and block violent messages. It is a full-time job. One that if the woman herself were to do it would take away all the time she had to produce new work, not to mention the emotional and psychological toll it would take.

When they raise their voices about this they are often told to grow a thicker skin. Or they are told to ignore the trolls. Or they are told they are overreacting – it’s just the internet. No one is really going to hurt them… Or they are told that by talking about it they are “feeding the trolls” and encouraging more abuse.

Even after they are doxxed (Which means someone posts all of their personal information including home and work addresses, real names, phone numbers, email addresses, social security numbers, passwords, etc.) and laid bare, even after someone is caught driving to their house with weapons and a stated intent to kill them – they are told to calm down, relax, it’s just the internet – grow a thicker skin. Even after the threats escalate enough to get the FBI and other law enforcement agencies involved. “Stop whining. You’re blowing it out of proportion. It’s just twitter…”

There is no winning.

There is no escape.

There is no acceptable, allowable response other than to ignore it and move on – or just quit. It’s amazing how often women are told to quit what they love if they can’t take the abuse.

As if violence is the price we must all pay for the freedom to work, to socialize, to succeed…

“Calm down, it happens to everyone.”

But it doesn’t happen to everyone. It happens to very specific types of people – vocal women – especially vocal women of color, gay people, trans* people, in other words, it happens primarily to people who are not male and cisgendered and straight and white.

I haven’t waded into this for many reasons, but today I realized that there is a commonality between this and something I experienced as a teenager and young woman beginning to make my way in the world. Something super fucked up and totally not okay.

It’s the acceptance of the idea that violence is the price women (and gay people and trans* people who don’t want to live in closets) must pay for success, for inclusion, for the right to exist. Worse, there is an idea that perhaps beyond being a price to be paid violence might actually be a symbol of success, a sign that you have made it to the next level.

“Welcome to the club.”

I remember the first time I was sexually assaulted. I was in a foreign country as an exchange student and an older man who was supposed to be taking care of me while my host parent was on vacation groped me and kissed me – while his wife was one room away! He knew I was alone and isolated and had no one to call and he took advantage of that. Eventually his actions combined with other circumstances forced me to return home early. It screwed me up pretty bad, and set the stage for how I would deal with future assaults.

I remember telling my sister about what happened. I remember her hugging me and saying something along the lines of, “Welcome to the club. It sucks, but it happens to all of us.” Then she told me her story.

This was my introduction to being a teenager, this was how I crossed the line from kid to teen, from “innocent” to “worldly” and “experienced.”

I was no longer a little girl. I was part of a new group. This act of violence somehow made me mature in a way that having boyfriends, traveling to foreign countries, having a job and taking other steps toward adulthood had not.

At the same time, this new maturity came with its own code of silence. I was assured by everyone I spoke to in those first few days back that no one wanted to hear about what had happened, no one wanted to know the real reason I was home early, no one wanted to validate my feeling that I had been punished for this man’s crime – it made them uncomfortable, they couldn’t help, they couldn’t change it, so why not just focus on the good stuff that had happened – no matter that for me, focusing on the good things meant focusing on what I had lost, what this man had taken from me – the opportunity to live in a foreign country and build my independence and confidence – the chance to grow my new friendships and finish the new courses I was taking. The chance to pursue a dream.

What I heard time and time again was, “Welcome to the club, it happens, move on. Don’t talk about it, if you talk about it, then it defines you. If you acknowledge it, you are weak.”

And so I moved on – but I moved on thinking that this type of violence was normal, and while not exactly acceptable, it was to be expected and that there was nothing I or anyone else could, or would, do about it because it made people uncomfortable.

“Welcome to the club.”

When I type it out that way, it becomes somehow much less surprising that I was raped on my 18th birthday.

Not because I asked for it, or deserved it, or should have seen it coming, or because I wasn’t strong enough – though I have been told all of those things, and told myself all of those things a bajillion times – but because like so many women I had learned to accept a certain level of violence as the price I must pay for existing.

There were warning signs – those warning signs were the reason I went to break up with my boyfriend that night. I saw the violence in him and had experienced enough of it to know that it was escalating. To know that it was reaching a dangerous plateau, one that I did not want to reach. Unfortunately I hadn’t read the literature yet that discusses time and time and time again that THE MOST DANGEROUS moment in an abusive relationship is when the victim tries to leave.

A couple of years after I was raped, I wrote a poem about it, trying to process what had happened, and why I still hadn’t been able to get all the way over it. In the poem there’s a stanza,

I’ll never forget
the night I became an adult
was the night you made me a woman.

Think about that for a minute.

That was how I processed my rape – that that act of violence, of having my basic humanity denied and taken from me – THAT was what made me a woman!

“Welcome to the club.”

It wasn’t a badge of honor in any way. It was a badge of shame. But at the same time, it was a rite of passage – a common one, and I eventually came to accept it as such. (Looking back now as an adult and as a mother – there are simply no words for how fucked up that is. I cannot imagine my daughters accepting rape as the price of admission to womanhood – but we have a hard fight ahead of us if we’re going to change this culture in time for them.)

I remember telling my college roommate about it one night, after another terrifying phone call from my rapist turned stalker left me shaking.

“Welcome to the club,” she said, “at least it wasn’t as bad as what happened to me.” And then she told me her story.

Nearly every woman I have ever opened up to about any of my experiences has come back with one of her own.

“Welcome to the club.”

And while we all know that this violence isn’t acceptable, isn’t okay, isn’t deserved or asked for… We have also all on various levels come to terms with its existence. We have all in some way come to accept that it is inevitable, that there is nothing we can do about it but pick up the pieces and move on. We have learned to see it as some sort of sick rite of passage that takes us to the next level of womanhood.

And that is truly distressing, because there are new generations of girls and boys being brought up into the culture we are creating – and we must, all of us, work to create a culture where violence is not the price anyone must pay for simply existing, where sexual violence and gendered violence aren’t the ways we “level up.”

And yet…

This same mentality, that violence is the cost of, perhaps even the measure of, success if you are female has taken over the internet. Being harassed and threatened until you feel so unsafe that you leave your home, or quit your job  (or are fired from your job because your harassers are causing a disturbance to the company), or go dark, or… This is the new rite of passage.

It’s not a badge of honor, it is not a status anyone covets – but at the same time… There is this idea that you must be making progress, you must be doing something right, you must be successful – or they wouldn’t try so hard to push you back down.

I see this mentality taking its toll – there are voices going dark, there are women disappearing from public life, there are people being chased out of their homes and jobs and careers and leaving their passions because daily, hourly, minutely threats of violence are simply more than they can carry – and quite frankly, that is more than we should be asking anyone to carry in order to do their job or exist in public spaces.

Violence, or the threat of violence is not an acceptable rite of passage. Not here, not anywhere.

And if you think that online threats are small potatoes, or there are bigger problems we should be dealing with first, or that this is a first world problem – let me be the one to tell you, you are wrong.

Violence does not exist in isolation, it exists on a continuum. If you wonder why so many women take online threats more seriously than many men think we should – it’s because most of us have been on the receiving end of actual violence, we have already lived through that, we know how it feels to have those threats carried out – and we’d like to not have to go through it again.

We’d like to not have to remember and relive and reprocess that violence every day.

These threats that people see as jokes, or banter, or a rebuttal to an opinion (really, a threat of rape is an acceptable rebuttal to, “that shirt is tacky.” Are you sure?) exist in a context of routine, physical violence against women. Street harassment that so many people see as “a compliment” exists inside the context of routine, physical assaults against women.

We cannot separate the words from the potential reality because all too many of us have LIVED the reality of violence. We do not have a sense of humor about this because we are still healing from the last physical assault. We are still recovering from the last threat that became reality in a flash too fast for us to run from.

We have to treat all threats as real threats – because enough of them have been.

You might know you’re just joking – we do not, and we cannot take that chance with our safety. No one should be asking us to.

I am so very appreciative of the many women right now who are taking a stand, from the victims of Gamer Gate to Ashley Judd and saying, enough, this is NOT acceptable, this is not okay, this is not a fair price to pay for being female with an opinion and the “audacity” to express it in public.

I am even more appreciative of the men who have come out to say, “Enough, this is not acceptable.” because the violence is largely coming from men, and it will take the courage of other men standing up and saying “enough” to make them listen.

Men who threaten and carry out violence against women tend not to be the type who listen when women ask them to stop! They tend to be the type of men who defer only to other men, which is why we need more men willing to take this seriously, willing to stand up and say, this is not what masculinity looks like, this is not what manhood looks like, violence is not an acceptable way to get what you want.

We must, all of us with the power to do so, move forward together on this. We must stop welcoming people to the club and start helping each other burn this club to the ground. It’s a terrible club and I don’t want the next generation to have to join us here. I don’t want the next generation to grow up believing violence is normal or to be expected – because once we learn to expect it, we come to accept it.

And violence is not an acceptable price to pay for existing.

If women must take responsibility for what they say and do in public, then shouldn’t people who attack them also be asked to take responsibility for those attacks?

Not everyone who is threatened with violence has the voice and the resources and the power to call it out, fight back and bring it to the attention of people with the power to shut it down. But for those of us who do – we should. We should be standing up for all of the victims of violence who are powerless against their abusers. We should not be tolerating threats online, or in person. We should not be tolerating violence directed toward ourselves or others.

We should not be brushing off violent threats as jokes, or banter or rebuttals. Threats of violence exist to silence opposition, not to brighten anyone’s day. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from dissent, but it shouldn’t mean that we have to accept violence in order to be heard.

I am taking my inspiration from the women and men who are using their voice and their power to say, “No more.” and joining them.

“Welcome to the club.”

And in one of those fortuitous moments of synchronicity, just as I was about to hit publish on this post, this video from Anita Sarkeesian popped up in my feed.

 

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Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist